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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, April 15, 2017

SHADOW BOXING WITH BATGIRL'S GREATEST ENEMY

Just to get the title-explanation out of the way, the "greatest enemy" of Batgirl-- and indeed, of most if not all fictional characters-- is the ideological critic, the sort who reads fiction in order to see only what he wants to see. I've already critiqued the misrepresentations of Ennbee's Guardian essay on the KILLING JOKE DVD, and I truly meant to leave it at that. But it occurred to me that are deeper issues involved in the ideological reading of KILLING JOKE than just whether or not a given critic renders a careless, ideologically over-determined reading.

A bigger issue is that ideological critics like Ennbee are unable to understand the inevitable contradictions inherent in their position. For instance, here's Ennbee arguing that even if the DVD adaptation had been better than the source material, it still would have been a bad idea:

Rebooting stories that are racist and sexist is one way that racist and sexist narratives and ideas get replicated and perpetuated. You can sometimes change the story and make it better – and then, sometimes, you can’t. The Killing Joke didn’t have to be as wretched in cartoon form as it turned out to be, but remaking it was always going to be a bad idea.

Now, here's Ennbee arguing for what DC Animation should have done, rather than perpetuating an evil sexist story:

Instead, maybe, DC could have done an animated Birds of Prey – a series in which numerous female superheroes, not least Barbara Gordon, fight crime together without having to ask Batman for permission. 

As I mentioned in the previous essay, Ennbee made no mention of the film's allusion to Barbara Gordon becoming Oracle at the end; of continuing her heroic activities in another manner. This by itself is mere sloppiness on his part. But Ennbee's real whopper is that he doesn't even get that without the Moore-Bolland KILLING JOKE, there is no BIRDS OF PREY, at least in the historical sense.

Sure, it's *theoretically* possible that, had DC never published any story in which Barbara Gordon or anyone else was shot and paralyzed, the company could have published its first all-female team-book without such a character: without "Barbara Gordon in her new identity as Oracle." Such a book would still have to employ any number of narrative contortions to satisfy Ennbee's political purity test, of course. But from what Ennbee wrote in the Guardian essay, one would never know that BIRDS OF PREY was in any way dependent on the events of the Moore-Bolland work. He makes it sound like BOP was totally untainted by the events of the very graphic novel that, quite unintentionally, determined a new direction for the then-moribund adventures of Barbara Gordon.

To sum up briefly: Moore asked DC for permission to have Batgirl be crippled by the Joker in KILLING JOKE. Later he stated that he never expected the character to remain a paraplegic, given the many miracle-cures abounding in the DC Universe, and indeed DC did toy with the idea of reviving Batgirl via one such cure, "the Lazarus Pit" of Ra's Al Ghul. This idea was dropped, and credit for a better direction is usually given to writers Kim Yale and John Ostrander, who spearheaded the idea of reconfiguring Gordon as a mysterious dispenser of information to the superhero community. Thus Oracle made her debut roughly a year after her fate in KILLING JOKE, in Ostrander's SUICIDE SQUAD #23.



Once the character was revealed to be the now-paraplegic Barbara Gordon, she became a more prominent player in the DC Universe, particularly in the Bat-corner of that cosmos. This new role-- which gave Gordon greater prominence than she had enjoyed as Batgirl in the late 1980s-- engendered a one-shot team-up with Black Canary in 1996, which in its turn led to the regular BOP title.



To be sure, the first fifty-plus issues of the regular series, largely scripted by Chuck Dixon, were basically no more than decent formulaic action-stories. Gail Simone, debuting on BOP #56 in 2003, distinguished herself on the title and made both the character of Oracle and the feature's "girl power" theme more appealing to fans. 



Now, though I consider Simone's contribution to the BOP concept to be vital in a creative sense, there's no question in my mind that from first to last, BIRDS OF PREY is intimately tied to the supposedly sexist injuries inflicted on Barbara Gordon by Moore and Bolland. I have no idea whether Ennbee thinks well of the comic book itself, though he certainly seems to be stumping for an adaptation, if only one produced by female creators. 

In earlier years Simone apparently agreed to some extent with Ennbee's characterization of KILLING JOKE as sexist, for she listed Batgirl's paralysis as one of the casualties of dastardly male creators on her WOMEN IN REFRIGERATORS site.  In this essay I expressed my disapproval of Simone for ham-handedly listing characters regardless of the context of their suffering in each given narrative, and over the years I've become (in contrast to Ennbee) even less sympathetic to the "WIR" complaint. But Simone's protest against female marginalization becomes even more ironic, when one realizes that BOP was her first major success in the comic-book field, and that her success stemmed in large part from the fact that DC readers were invested in the fate of Paraplegic Barbara Gordon. That Simone wrote some really good stories with PBG-- quite possibly better than anything Alleged Misogynist Alan Moore could have rendered, given the same subject-- does not obviate Simone's indebtedness to Moore's 1988 ambition desire to shock his complacent audience with an event of arresting violence. That indebtedness also does not "go away" even if Modern Moore recants his 1988 ambitions. BIRDS OF PREY, DC Comics' first all-female team-title, owes its existence to the Big Event of a heroine being sliced, diced, and stuck in a Frigidaire-- though it appears that even before Simone, Yale or Ostrander became involved, there was always the possibility of a Resurrection from the Refrigerator.

To explain the other part of the title now: this complaint comes down to mere "shadow boxing" with the ranks of ideological critics in general. From experience I know that, should I post my analysis of Ennbee's faulty logic on HU, Ennbee would not be capable of arguing any of my points. He has established a persona whereby everything he writes is for the betterment of marginalized people, so if you challenge him on logic or anything else, you must be a low-down defender of the status quo. I would be curious to know if Gail Simone perceived herself in any way indebted to Moore, but from what little I know of her during her Comic Book Resources, she has never really forsworn WOMEN IN REFRIGERATORS, so that may not be a likely scenario either.

At the end of NEGATIVE I.D. I said that "one must distinguish between the artistic potential of a controversial trope like girlfriend-killing, and any particular negative example of same." Even if I agreed with Ennbee that the gut-shooting of Barbara Gordon marked Moore, Bolland and DC Comics as unregenerate masculinists-- which I don't-- I would still contend that what didn't kill Barbara Gordon made her stronger, rather than reducing her to a victim. Simone herself pursued that theme in BIRDS OF PREY more than once, and any animated adaptation of the property that didn't allow Barbara Gordon to suffer for a good narrative reason would surely end up as far worse than the 2016 KILLING JOKE.








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